HOW TO Tell the Difference Between Real Gold and Fool’s Gold

What does real gold look like?

“There’s gold in them there hills!”

On a recent trip to Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, CA, we got a chance first hand to discover actual gold and learn how to tell the difference between the real deal and tricky fool’s gold.

Without zooming in, it can be tough to tell the difference, especially when the sun is shining and the water makes everything glisten.
Here’s a close-up of iron pyrite (fool’s gold) and actual gold side by side.  One of the major differences between the two is that pyrite has hard edges, gold has softer edges. When you first get started, you might want to bring along a magnifying glass when you’re out panning or rockhounding. More tips below.  

Gold Panning Tips



  1. SHINE: When you’re viewing fool’s gold with the natural eye, it will glisten, not shine. The edges will look sharp and it may separate in layers. Gold shines at any angle, not just when the “light is right”.
  2. HARDNESS: Get a piece of copper and try to scratch the copper with the gold. If it scratches it’s pyrite. Pyrite is harder than copper. If you do have real gold, be careful with this test. You wouldn’t want to damage a beautiful gold nugget!
  3. RESIDUE: Gold will leave a pure yellow residue while pyrite will leave a greenish-black powdery residue when rubbed against white porcelain.
  4. EDGES: Pyrite has sharp edges and gold has rounder edges. The shape of fools’s gold is a lot more angular.

Look at the gold nugget below. This was found by a little girl in Coloma, CA.

What does rreal gold look like
We enjoyed the history of the area and panned for fun. We’re doing research on where folks can pan for gold and it seems there’s gold in more places than we imagined. We were told several times that only 20% of the gold has been discovered!

Learn about the Gold Rush in less than 3 minutes! Watch our video:

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